The banner hanging on the “welcome shack” at the entrance of our state church summer camp, Silver Lake, stated “Black Lives Matter.” During a weekend when several different groups were holding events at the camp, someone took a marker to the banner and wrote “All Lives Matter.”
Which is right? Does saying that “Black lives matter” negate other lives or somehow make other lives less valuable?
Our Conference Minister, the Rev. Kent Siladi, wrote a compassionate letter addressed to all Christians in the Connecticut Conference. He stated, “We have had spirited arguments with friends and colleagues who fervently believe that “All” lives matter, and that to single out some lives seems to diminish the worthiness of others. We disagree with that analysis, although we welcome the conversation about this.”
The conversation is not easy. After the camp banner was defaced, someone asked me, “Why is this wrong? Don’t all lives matter? Isn’t that what the banner should say – that God loves all of us?”
Asking questions may be the first part of this important conversation. But then we need to be prepared to listen to a variety of opinions. Are we willing to take that risk? Can we engage in conversation with each other? Can we really listen to one another?
My answer to those questions would be – Of course God loves all people and all lives. Our congregation celebrates that in worship every Sunday when I announce the Good News that “God loved the world – and every single person in it so much – that God gave his only Son, Jesus.”
If we had enough banners, we could list all the people who matter – that would be everyone. But sometimes it is necessary to lift up individual stories and listen to the particular accounts of people who have suffered along the journey toward equality and justice. “All Lives” can learn from these sometimes hidden histories of pain and struggle. In order to engage in conversation, we need to be attentive to voices that are too often silenced. We need to listen to Blacks, women, immigrants, Native Americans, Jews, lesbians, gays, and transgender – anyone who has experienced life on the margins of society. Each story is precious and can’t be contained under the sweeping label of “all.” These individual experiences need to be heard.
In a perfect world, it wouldn’t be necessary to emphasize that Black lives matter – it would be obvious. In a perfect world, every race, color, gender, and culture would be honored and treated equally. But this isn’t a perfect world.
The banner at the camp welcome shack was an attempt to announce to everyone – but perhaps especially to people of color – that in this place, we will be intentional about our hospitality. In this place we will endeavor to do what too often is not done – we will treat everyone with the respect they deserve as a beloved child of God. It’s important to say it out loud – to put up a banner announcing it – because throughout history that respect has not always been given. That continues to be the case too often even today.
It’s too easy to say, “All lives matter.” Instead, we are invited to lift up those lives that have been excluded, hurt, and dismissed. We need to have this conversation – over and over again.